It's a square world: The border of the United States (top) and Mexico (bottom), both looking uncharacteristically rectangular. Planet Labs, Inc

Turkey is extremely rectangular—but not as much as Egypt, Lethoso, and Ghana.

Following last week’s failed coup in Turkey, David Barry noticed an awful lot of friends airing their armchair geopolitical analyses on Facebook. One posted a map of the country accompanied by this observation: "Say what you will about Turkey, it is a remarkably rectangular country."

Barry, a Perth-based programmer and digital mapmaker, took that remark and ran with it, to astonishingly nerdy lengths: He devised a method of ranking more than 200 countries, principalities, republics and nation-states according to rectangularity. Pretty scientific stuff here: Barry examined the “maximum percentage overlap” between the area within a nation’s borders and a “rectangle of the same area,” according to his personal website. (He also added a disclaimer related to the digital files smoothly outlining each country’s shape—essentially, objects may be less rectangular in real life than they appear here.)

Which countries crack the top ten, according to Barry’s analysis? In order, and shown below: Egypt, Vatican City, Sint Maarten, Lethoso, Yemen, Ghana, Macedonia, Cote d’Ivoire, Poland, and Nauru. (Turkey comes in at 15th place.)

(David Barry)

These squarish places are a mix of landlocked (or mostly landlocked) states, like Poland or Macedonia, or enclaves like Vatican City or Lethoso. Two are islands. And several are nations with arbitrary borders drawn by outsiders, which could help explain why they’re also riddled with conflict. The outlines of many African countries were determined almost entirely “without consideration for those actually living there,” according to Reuters, by European colonial powers in the early 20th century. The legacy of this continues to spark conflict and secessionist movements around the continent. The straight borders of many Middle Eastern countries tell a similar story—they’re largely the result of the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, in which new borders created by English and French aristocratic statesmen “did not correspond to the actual sectarian, tribal, or ethnic distinctions on the ground,” according to the BBC. Needless to say, problems related to those nuanced distinctions haven’t gone away.

Not that rectangularity necessarily yields conflict. “In general I am skeptical
of that sort of cross-country statistical analysis,” Barry tells CityLab via email. Nor does wiggliness (yes, that’s the proper term) lead to stability and peace. In the bottom ten of Barry’s ranking are a collection of island nations: the Maldives, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Cape Verde, Solomon Island, Bahamas, Seychelles, Indonesia, Kiribati, and Tonga—a roll-call of several of the world’s most vulnerable places as sea levels rise. Sometimes, it’s good to be square.

For interactive fun with straight-lined borders, head over to Barry’s site.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    The Automotive Liberation of Paris

    The city has waged a remarkably successful effort to get cars off its streets and reclaim walkable space. But it didn’t happen overnight.

  2. Transportation

    How Toronto Turned an Airport Rail Failure Into a Commuter Asset

    The Union Pearson Express launched with expensive rides and low ridership. Now, with fares slashed in half and a light rail connection in the works, it’s a legitimate transit alternative for workers.

  3. A man sits in a room alone.
    Equity

    The World's First Minister of Loneliness

    Britain just created an entirely new ministry to tackle this serious public health concern.

  4. Life

    The (Legal) Case Against Bidding Wars Like Amazon's

    The race to win Amazon’s second headquarters has reignited a conversation dating back to the late ‘90s: Should economic incentives be curbed by the federal government? Can they be?

  5. A dockless bikeshare bike on the streets of D.C.
    Transportation

    What People Mean When They Call Dockless Bikeshare a 'Nuisance'

    In Washington, D.C., some residents are not enthusiastic about the free-range rent-a-bikes.